Photo Courtesy: SMU website
Photo Courtesy: SMU website

Thousands of graduates at risk after Sikkim Manipal University graduation degree revealed to be Distance Learning degree

Bhutan is estimated to have around 5,000 to 6,000 graduates, who over the years have graduated from the Sikkim Manipal University’s various affiliated study centers outside Sikkim. The majority of them come from the B.B Pradhan Management College (BMC) in Kalimpong which has been in operation since 2003.

Over the years these many graduates have joined government jobs both through the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and directly through government agencies. They have also taken up government corporate jobs and also contested elections on the strength of their graduation certificate.

SMU degree under question

However, this very Graduation Certificate has come into question in Bhutan as Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) affiliated study centers as of 2016 have started mentioning ‘Directorate of Distance Education,’ on their graduation certificates.

This is an issue as the RCSC and other government agencies, as a rule, do not accept ‘Distance Education’ graduation certificates for employment. Moreover, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) also does not accept such degrees to contest in elections.

This could also affect all past graduates as recently affected Bhutanese students have found that the Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) Degrees from these affiliated centers in the past too were ‘Distance Education’ degrees as per India’s University Grants Commission (UGC). The only difference being that in the past the University took care to not mention it on the Graduation Certificates of students to give an appearance of it being a full fledged formal degree.

The students themselves who attended these colleges classes regularly, did exams and even wore uniforms were also under the impression that they were getting formal graduate degrees.

Complaint

However, a group of eight recent Bhutanese graduates who studied in the SMU affiliated study center called ‘Six Sigma Educom College’ in Shillong found to their shock this change in their graduation certificates of 2016.

One of them Kunzang Thinley from Punakha who wanted to contest for the 2018 National Council elections found that the ECB would not accept his graduation degree.

So Kunzang and seven of his colleagues from the same college have put up petitions and complaints on the issue to the Education Minister and the Cabinet Secretariat.

In their letter to the Education Ministry the eight students said that they have been deceived by the University. They said that the University had enrolled them as regular degree students in 2013 and over the course of six semesters in three years they paid Nu 111,000 in fees with their own separate house rent expenses of Nu 162,000 each not including fooding, lodging etc.

The letter says, “As we passed out in 2016, it turned out to be a nightmare for all of us that they issued a distance education certificate which is a total deception of what we were promised and registered for.” They said that SMU turned a deaf year to their request for a formal degree.

SMU’s murky legal past

Unknown to many Bhutanese students, both past and present, the UGC of India on 27th June 2013 had issued a notification saying that a University established or incorporated under a State Act can operate only within that state and cannot operate beyond that jurisdiction. This meant that the University could operate only in Sikkim.

Prior to this in 2011 Denmark and Australia started rejecting SMU graduates on the basis of a letter from India’s Ministry of Human Resources and Development that said these SMU study centers were not authorized and so their programs and degrees offered on a distant mode could not be recognized under Indian law nor be equated to an Indian degree.

When some ex-students in India took the matter to court, the Sikkim High Court in June 26, 2015 upheld that SMU affiliated study centers outside Sikkim cannot offer such courses anymore. However, to protect the interest of SMU students the court ruled that all students who had taken distance education admissions till the day of the court judgment of 26th June 2015 would have their distance education degree’s protected.

In reaction to the High Court order of 2015 the SMU did not want to take any risks and so it started mentioning ‘Directorate of Distance Education’ on its graduation certificates from then on.

This was confirmed to The Bhutanese by the Six Sigma Educom College which in a statement said that prior to the court case the SMU did not mention Distance Education on their degrees but did so after the court case.

Sigma College responds

The Six Sigma Educom College claimed that distance education was mentioned in the enrollment forms for students and students were aware but issues cropped up only after it was mentioned on the graduation certificates.

However, the College out of the six mark sheets from 2013 to 2016 did not mention ‘Directorate of Distance Learning’ in the five semesters results but mentioned it only from July 2016 in the sixth semester result card. This indicates a clear attempt to hide ‘Distance Learning’ both from its mark sheets and its certificate up until 2016.

The college said it has written to the SMU to upgrade these degrees but it said that it may be difficult for the SMU to do it only for around eight students.

The college said that a few years ago it came to Bhutan to advertise its college but no media outlet would publish its advertisement stating a government notification on distance learning. It said that, however, if the government was aware, why were so many students allowed to continue taking such distance education courses.

The actual SMU College campus in Sikkim offers courses only in Engineering, Medicine, MBA and Masters in Computer Application. The SMU has been allowed to only do online courses outside Sikkim for the year of 2016-17 by the UGC for a limited number of courses with no study center affiliation. This too would be subject to further review by UGC.

B.B Pradhan College

Meanwhile, attesting to the duplicitous nature of these study centers, Sonam Tenzin, a former 2010 graduate student of B.B Pradhan Management College and the then Bhutan Students Association treasurer said that none of them were aware that their SMU affiliation was only for distance learning. He said that the Kalimpong college also never informed them on the issue. Sonam said that during his time itself around 400 Bhutanese students were graduating in a year from the college and by now it would be around 5,000 to 6,000 graduates.

He also confirmed that several of his colleagues got jobs in the civil service, government agencies, banks and even the election commission on the basis of those graduation certificates which at the time did not mention distance learning.

However, even before the eight student’s complaint the Ministry of Education got alerted on the issue in 2016 when a candidate for the Haa Thrompon’s post had to step down after the Bhutan Accreditation Council found her B.B Pradhan degree was a distance learning one.

DAHE’s views

The Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) Director, Kesang C. Dorji said that in 2016 her department issued a notification on SMU saying that certain centers including B.B Pradhan was a distance learning one.

The Director said that the B.B Pradhan College management people even charged her in her office for the notification.

The director said that students going for such courses don’t even find out and ask as the DAHE would be more than happy to inform them and also find out the validity of these courses and Universities. She said instead what seems to be happening is that if a student comes for vacation he takes a dozen of his friends with him to the same college.

The Director said that they would once again remind and alert students.

RCSC speaks

The RCSC’s examination division head Jigme Norbu said that both the 2010 BCSR and the 2012 BCSR does not allow for ‘distance education’ certificates to be accepted. He said that such a rule existed even prior to the 2010 BCSR. Jigme said that before the RCSC exams they verify the documents but as detailed as the verification is they cannot find out if the certificates do not mention ‘distance learning.’

He said that though many B.B Pradhan Management College students sat for RCSC in the past only a few could get through due to quality issues. Jigme said that, however, all RCSC applicants had to sign a legal undertaking saying that their degree is a fully legitimate one.

RCSC Chairman Dasho Karma Tshiteem said that RCSC does not accept ‘distance learning’ certificates due to quality issues as students do not have a point of contact. He said he was not aware of the latest issue and that RCSC would have to review it in line with the laws.

The RCSC this year disqualified a PGDE candidate even after the candidate got through once it was found that the graduation certificate was a ‘distance learning’ one.

The Cabinet secretary Kinzang Wangdi said that he has received the student’s letter and he has written to the Royal University of Bhutan Vice Chancellor to write to the SMU Vice Chancellor and find out what can be done.

The Education Ministry has asked the DAHE to also look into the issue. In the meantime thousands of SMU graduates will have to cross their fingers and wait for a solution, if at all.

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About Tenzing Lamsang

10 comments

  1. /Black in year 2004, I was one of the victim of education consultant in Thimphu. I got admission in SMU study centre in Kolkata, Salt Lake City.I was only one who was pursing BAJM (Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication) in a rented building block known to be college .I wasn’t at all comfortable and I felt something is terribly going wrong.So,I wasted my precious academic time and my parents hard earned money being there, assuming myself in a college but studying nothing ….May be it would be my far sighted decision,if you look at now.I left SMU study centre in Salt lake ,Kolkata, right after after completing first semester.My result was colourfull 70% and that best suits the eligibility for the job markets in Bhutan, moreover good for attempting Civil service examination as RCSE counts 20% of the academic marks.I hasn’t felt as if I was studying in institutions or a college ,my experience with SMU was life time haunting and it’s still haunt me.With the blessings and support from parents I finally graduated from Hansraj college, Delhi University and now pursuing Master of International development from University of Canberra(Australian Capital Territory)

  2. Back in year 2004, I was one of the victim of education consultant in Thimphu. I got admission in SMU study centre in Kolkata, Salt Lake City.I was only one who was pursuing BAJM (Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication) in a rented building block known to be college .I wasn’t at all comfortable and I felt something is terribly going wrong.I wasted my precious academic time and my parents hard earned money.I was assuming myself in a college but studying nothing ….May be my far sighted decision,if you look at now.I left SMU study centre in Salt lake ,Kolkata, right after after completing first semester.My result was colourfull 70% and that best suits the eligibility criteria for the job markets in Bhutan, moreover good for attempting Civil service examination as RCSE counts 20% of the academic marks.I was not all studying in the institutions or a college ,my experience with SMU was life time haunting and it’s still haunt me.With the blessings and support from beloved parents I finally graduated from Hansraj college, Delhi University and now pursuing Master of International development from University of Canberra(Australian Capital Territory)

  3. I haven’t seen anything mentioned under BCSR2006, BCSR2010 & BCSR2012 regarding DE.

    If that is the case RCSC and other relevant agencies should verify all the university for equity and justice incl. CE (10,12, CE for Employed staffs in winter). Should also create awareness to students prior leaving Bhutan for further studies. Not just one university.

  4. With regard to the most unfortunate situation that many Bhutanese who went to SMU now find themselves in today with their degrees not recognized as its Distance Learning, let me highlight few excerpts from the article:

    QUOTE

    …the RCSC’s examination division head Jigme Norbu said that both the 2010 BCSR and the 2012 BCSR does not allow for ‘distance education’ certificates to be accepted. …”

    … RCSC Chairman Dasho Karma Tshiteem said that RCSC does not accept ‘distance learning’ certificates due to quality issues as students do not have a point of contact….

    … RCSC this year disqualified a PGDE candidate even after the candidate got through once it was found that the graduation certificate was a ‘distance learning’ one.

    …RCSC and other government agencies, as a rule, do not accept ‘Distance Education’ graduation certificates for employment. Moreover, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) also does not accept such degrees to contest in elections…

    UNQUOTE

    That being the case the Prime Minister, Education Minister, RCSC, DAHE and RUB must take this issue very seriously and not resort to half-hearted measures or apply double standards.

    In particular they must review cases by those who people who cheated the system under false declarations and got into the civil service.

    RCSC and Cabinet must open a hotline to receive complaints about such devious people who must must face severest penalty.

    On the other hand those who were conned by SMU, SIGMA etc should not be treated like criminals because they were naive. Some leniency must be shown for example by allowing them get a legitimate degree and an opportunity to participate in elections or RCSC exams etc. It will be a tough call but 3 years is nothing compared to a lifetime of opportunities.

    The government should also use its good offices to make SMU refund the fees to our students. If necessary hire a good Indian lawyer because only the treat of a legal action may force these con artists into submission.

    Singye

  5. Sad to hear that our Government/RCSC is not helping such students (victims) when they are seeking their help?
    Look at Sikkim Govt. ( https://smude.edu.in/smude/others/media/announcements/university-update-smude.html ) – They are helping those students who have already been enrolled in such colleges. Look at RCSC. They think that BCSR is all. They came with RCSC and kept it within themselves. It is in paper and they hardly create any awareness. How could RCSC expect every class 12 passed out students to know BCSR when they can even complete studying what is on their desk. RCSC keep BCSR within themselves and at the end they are saying it is in BCSR. Does any student who want to/are avail further studies know about this??? Had RCSC and DAHE ever created awareness on DE??? Did they ever sent any circular to education consultancies on it? Does that suffice saying it is in BCSR? Have they ever created any awareness during education fare?

    If RCSC does not have a capacity to handle such “unforeseen circumstances” ask one of the DE student to teach you. RCSC and DAHE really lack capacity in handling such cases. That is not how RCSC/Govt. should respond. Try to help them. Try to call those victims back and let them study in one of the colleges here in Bhutan. Let them pay usual fees/give them options. After all they are citizen of Bhutan. They are from poor family. Don’t just believe in what is in a paper.

    FYI – In India all colleges are just like that only. Some students hardly go to college and get degree certificate. There are lots of self-evident colleges. Please verify these colleges and create awareness to them.

    “Govt. is really good in papers but never good at implementations” – this is the consequences of being good at paper and now they blame these victims.

    One thing – When whole world is after CE/DE what is wrong with RCSC?

    Sharing my thoughts.

  6. Leave it alone. The highest Executive in the Civil Service like Cabinet Secretary, don’t know who’s mandated in the government to look after the quality of the Education in the country. The Cabinet secretary like Election commission of Bhutan referred the case to the Royal University of Bhutan. Its ridiculous…the RUB is like any institution, is the provider of the education and falls under the scanner of BAC and is not the regulator. The find out the quality of education, the mandate falls under the Bhutan Accreditation Council under Ministry of Education, RGoB.

    How can we expect and manage the quality of Education when even the cabinet secretary, don’t know who is to do what in the Government.

  7. It has almost been a decade since students opted for SMU (DE) , Its cheap, most of the classes are conducted in a shabby 1 room rented apartments, students need not go to class every day, or for months ? living in their villages or sleeping for weeks, attendance can be bought , marks can be bought ,overwhelming the students who didn’t qualify for colleges in Bhutan come out with Distinction (70-80 %) in Degree ??? and yet they go un-noticed and secure good position in civil service & corporations ??? And many more are encouraged and have perused the same and still studying … How did that happen ??? If questioned we will get the same response i.e. It was not during my tenure or i was not in that Division at that point of time. What else can you expect .

    On the other hand the hard working civil servants with diploma qualifications who have put in their -10-15 yrs of dedicated services were demoralized twice by 1. removing the Professional Category(P) and 2. Increasing the promotion year from 4-5 yrs.

    God Bless Us All

  8. Apar jha its cheap and better than what you expect. Did you see my class room in b.b.pradhan management college? I did IT from bmc and i am 200% sure that i can perform much much more than your ICT OFFICERs. The ICT OFFICERS IN GOVT. SECTORE KNOWS NOTHING, I HAVE BEEN WORKING IN THIS FIELD FOR LAST 4 YEARS AND MET MANY GOVT. ICT OFFICERS. AND I FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE TO TEACH THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE THROUGH FROM RCSE EXAMINATION. IF WE ARE UNWANTED OR UNACCEPTABLE IN THE NATION I WILL NOT PAY PERSONAL TAX FROM MY SALARY,MY BUSINESS. IF THAT IS FINE THEN I WILL ACCEPT RCSE’S DECISION TO NOT TO LET SIKKIM MANIPAL UNIVERSITY STDS. TO SIT FOR THE EXAMINATION. I AM FROM A POOR BACKGROUND FAMILY, I AND OTHER STDS. LIKE ME CANNOT AFFORD FOR EXPENSIVE COLLEGES SO SMU WAS BETTER CHOICE AND IS STILL THE BEST CHOICE, WHERE WAS THE RCSE, ECB WHEN WE NEEDED AN AFFORDABLE COLLEGE AFTER CLASS 12? GIVE ME THE PROPER ANSWER BEFORE YOU THINK TO REPLY ME. DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW TO OPEN MICROSOFT OFFICE WORD IN UR LAPTOP MR. APAR JHA? HAHA… SMU WILL TEACH YOU IF YOU DONT KNOW.

    • Dear Right Click

      Here i am talking or pointing out at an Issue and lapses of our system and your are going personal , this is what happens to you so called educated lots( i guess your ego is hurt), read my lines … I said most classes Not ALL.

  9. To get quality education in India, please see University Grand Commission of India Act, rules and regulation regarding the conduct of the following universities:The Universities in India are divided into:
    1. Central University- the universities manages by the Central/federal Government of India by the act of Indian Parliament
    2. State University- the universities manages by the state government and enacted by the state legislative Assembly
    3. Private University- owned by individual or group of individuals and is enacted by the host state legislative Assembly.
    As per the UGC of India, the SL#1 is allowed to affiliate colleges in any state of India, Sl #2 the university is allowed to affiliate colleges within the state only and sl # 3 is not allowed to affiliate any college/s within the host state and outside of the host state. So, for that matter the colleges like Sigma at Shillong and BB Pradhan at Darjeeling WB is illegal.

    BB Pradhan College and Sigma College issues the Distance Education study materials, written on it ” The Directorate of Distance Education, SMU.” This is known to every Bhutanese student studying there and had taken deliberate risk in their career.

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